Summer Term Learning – Our Gathering Tradition

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Summer Learning

a discussion of morning time in homeschools, how we came to our gathering tradition as a support to our homeschool days

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers. We can take time off at random times during the year. Or we can expand or contract the length of our days, weeks, and terms. It is all up to us.

Another aspect I truly enjoy about homeschooling is the uniqueness it exhibits in each homeschool. No homeschool is exactly like another. Each homeschool is filled with the personalities unique to the family who inhabits it. And the best part about being the parent-teacher is we get to decide what our homeschool looks like, how it operates, when it operates, etc.

It is a beautiful thing. However that does not mean it is a simple thing! Hours upon hours of labor will go into the matriculation of each student. Each aspect of the homeschool culture will be examined, prayed over, and evaluated for its fit within each specific homeschool.

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The Homeschooling Idea

If you are like me, homeschool mama friend, you have labored to create in reality the mental picture you had of homeschooling. When I started with homeschooling, I had this idea of beautiful, lolling days of obedient, still children hanging on my every word. Reading aloud for hours with only minor interruptions, from children who ever so politely excused themselves and requested food or drink. Long afternoons laying in the sun, reciting poetry to one another and discussing the high-minded studies of the day.

When I pictured my homeschool, I never saw a cross-wise glance, nor heard a discouraging word. And the skies were not cloudy all day.

Then we started homeschool and quickly discovered:

Homeschool is not “Home on the Range.”

In the early days, my homeschool skies were cloudy – often. We barely got any actual homeschooling done. My dreams were often dashed upon the rocks of tantrums and tattle-tales. It took us a full year and a half to get Saxon Math 1 completed. Oh, and that was after we said goodbye to kindergarten math three days in.

Then I heard about this idea – magical idea. It was going to be the savior of our homeschooling days! It was going to work its magic. Soon my kids would transform themselves from the wiggly forms on the floor to ramrod-straight pupils. It was magic, after all!

We would have – morning time!

This was the solution to all my struggles – I just knew it!

How Morning Time Went & What I Did in Response

Morning time in the beginning. Let’s see. The days we actually did it were lovely for a little while. There was singing, Bible stories, poetry, music. It was truly lovely – when it happened. But on the days it did happen, it took the e-n-t-i-r-e day. Not another thing was accomplished besides morning time. Homeschool is supposed to be loose, but not this loose.

I knew the truth, goodness, and beauty thing of morning time was something I desperately wanted. But not at the expense of the actual learning supposed to be taking place in our homeschool. I wanted to motivate my kids in the morning – quickly – and then move into other learning pursuits.

So, I stopped doing the morning time thing for a while. And I watched my kids.

{P.S. All my best parenting and teaching solutions have come from observing my kids.}

I started to notice what drew their attention. And I started to get a greater overall structure to our homeschooling days by excluding morning time.

What I Discovered

Through my observations and subsequent return to morning time, I discovered a number of things. These are not homeschool maxims or anything. They are the things I observed and would tell my homeschool mama friends – like you!

Gathering Undergirds Homeschool

Our morning time – renamed Gathering by me based on my tendency to call, “Gather ’round” at the beginning of school – was getting in the way of actual homeschool. But the Gathering was supposed to be (in my mind) all the riches I wanted to show my children – all the extras; the ones which I didn’t have time to show them during the school day. In order for this Gathering thing to work, it didn’t need to be the focus of our school. It need to support our homeschool, pointing my kids to their further studies in their homeschool days.

I wanted the Gathering to be the dessert, or even the appetizer of our learning feast, not the full meal. By this relization, I came to know our Gathering must have parameters.

Gathering Plays to Patterns

I knew there were so many more riches I wanted to share with my precious little learners.

BUT we never seemed to get around to the beautiful art I wanted to show my kids. Rarely, we got to create our own art together. We never had time to just have simple conversations about little things. And we didn’t spend time delighting in the little bits of our day…until we sat around the kitchen island at meal times and snack times.

.As I noticed our family’s patterns and my children’s interests, I started to see we were having some of our best moments at this kitchen island. My kids and I would play silly word games, recite poetry, sing random songs, and talk about God.  We were being nourished not just by the food we ate, but by the culture we were creating together.

Through observing these natural familial patterns, I suddenly realized I have a place for our Gathering to happen.

Gathering Piques Interests

I also noticed this thing my kids did without fail – they would read the backs of the cereal boxes and share the jokes or information with each other. They never got tired of reading the same information. Daily reading and asking each other the same knock-knock jokes!! They delighted in the knowing and in the telling. Though I got tired of hearing the same things, I realized they wanted to be reading during meal times.  They were engaging with anything written or visually displayed because it appealed to them.

Sadly, the jokes on the back of the cereal box were not feeding my soul the way I knew this morning time thing could. If only cereal boxes could have artwork on them, or something else beautiful – useful even.

Finally it dawned on me – I have an idea of what to use to facilitate our Gatherings – placemats!

Gatherings Have Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

That spark which happened three years ago has rocked our homeschool culture! Immediately I knew:

  • This is where I will fit in all those riches I never have time to get to.
  • Here is where I will insert delight in learning together through simple and profound conversations.
  • This is the place we already laugh together, the place our hearts are already knit together.

I started scouring the books and resources I have to curate our first set of Gathering Placemats. Looking back on them now, I chuckle. They were not the picture of beauty I was hoping for. I have learned so much in three years! Yet, the moment I placed them in front of my kids, I knew I had done something special.

Since then I cannot tell you the number of times one of my kids has come running up to me having discovered something in the real world which they first experienced through our Gathering. Music. Art. History. Jokes! Each time they come running, there is this thread of thankfulness which trails behind them. Thankfulness from them and thankfulness from me – to the only God who could weave all this wonder into the world and then reach down and work it into the wondering head of His child. We did it! We experienced truth, goodness, and beauty – together!!

Gathering is a Touchstone

Over the years since we have begun to gather together, our Gathering has become a well-loved tradition. I used to think traditions were something which happen once a year. Things “we always do” on the holidays or for the first day of school. Yes, it is a habit, but there is something higher in our Gathering. Habits can be bad. This beloved tradition is full of too much truth, goodness, and beauty for the degrading moniker “habit.”

Our Gathering has become our homeschool’s cultural touchstone. It has become one of our greatest joys.

As such, our Gathering is not something we pick up and put down. It is a constant practice – constantly renewed throughout the year. We do not take off for school holidays or winter breaks. Thus, we do our Gathering in our Summer Term, too.

Gathering Summer Term

I have been working on some fresh Gatherings for this summer. The Gathering Placemats for the 2020-2021 school year are almost exhausted. We are currently working through the last half of the May Gathering.

So, it is time for me to get back to work! I just released Gathering: Americana, which you can check out here. Look for more Gathering Placemats for the summer in the next couple of weeks. I am currently working on:

  • Summertime
  • Microscopic Things

And I am hoping to be able to create some more topical Gathering Placemat sets before releasing the 2021-2022 school year in August.

Whew! Lots of delights to behold!

If you want to learn more about the Gathering Placemats I create for my family, you can read this Gathering FAQ. Or leave a question or comment. I love hearing from other homeschool mamas!

a discussion of morning time in homeschools, how we came to our gathering tradition as a support to our homeschool days
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